Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has held his first televised address in three years despite a ban on his speeches after being named as a proclaimed absconder, in a move that appears to be softening of the stand by the government run by his brother, a media report said on Tuesday.
Sharif, 72, who has been living in exile in the United Kingdom after going to the country under the pretext of medical treatment in 2019, is banned by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) over his status as a convict and absconder.
The three-time prime minister, the elder brother of Premier Shahbaz Sharif, on Sunday delivered a short speech to make an impassioned appeal for aid as floods wreak havoc across the country.
In the speech, he urged the people to help those in need. Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party currently leads the coalition government in the National Assembly, was declared a fugitive by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on June 24 last year for consistently avoiding court appearances in corruption-related cases.
Prior to this, he was serving the 10-year and 7-year sentences handed down to him in two corruption cases -- Avenfield and Al-Azizia. While the high court suspended Sharif's jail sentence in the Avenfield case, the PML-N supremo secured bail in the other case on health grounds, paving the way for his departure from the country.
Although he was granted a four-week leave, which could be conditionally extendable, not much has been revealed about his medical treatment during the past few years.
Recently, Federal Minister Javed Latif, Chairman Standing Committee on Information, Broadcasting, National History and Literary Heritage, denounced the media ban on Sharif's speeches.
When asked what stopped them from repealing the ban since they were in power, he said that Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb had been protesting this since day one. His apparent helplessness over the matter suggested that the government was not the one calling the shots on this issue.
There is speculation that there has been a change of heart of powers that be towards the elder Sharif and steps are being taken to allow him to return to the country as his younger sibling Prime Minister Sharif holds on to power.
The ruling party has already speculated about his return in September, and there are rumours that his cases will also be taken care of systematically. Journalists working at various channels said that they aired Nawaz Sharif's speech after they saw the state broadcaster do it.
One senior journalist opined that this gesture implied that the state does not have a problem with it, therefore, if PEMRA does serve them a notice they could simply point the authority towards the state television. Journalists working at various channels said that they aired Nawaz Sharif's speech after they saw the state broadcaster do it.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Advocate Azhar Siddiqui, whose letter prompted the media watchdog to issue the directives reminding news channels not to air speeches of absconders, said that this was not only a violation of PEMRA's orders but court orders as well.
He said that the court upheld this order when some leading television anchors challenged the ban, which means that this is the court's stance as well. He announced that he will approach the court over this matter.
When contacted and asked about the matter, Marriyum said, Why not, why should his speech be banned? However, she did not respond when it was highlighted that the airing of his speech was a violation of PEMRA's orders.
The letter to impose ban on Sharif's speeches was issued by the media watchdog on October 1, 2020, titled Prohibition Orders In Pursuance Of Section 27 regarding broadcast or rebroadcast of programmes of proclaimed offenders/absconders.Therefore, news channels are restricted from airing his live speeches.